Sweets

The amazing paradox of scallion popover s’more

” Nothing about this makes any sense… Yet it’s going to change the s’more world as you know it. “

Mark my words.  None of this makes any sense.  Nothing about it suggests that it should work.  Scallions and marshmallows?!  If you now shelve this idea in the lightless skepticism inside your head, it will forever be just a reminder that I – the Asian chick who has been left unchecked for far too long in the internet wilderness – have finally gone mad.

But if you could just push aside your good senses (the little voice inside your head telling you that the third powdered donut won’t help you, yes that one, scrap it), this recipe will turn the s’more world as you know it, upside down.

Yes, scallions, possibly one of the least likely substances to be associated with s’more next to pickled herrings and petroleum, against all odds, has somehow proven to be a miraculously effective liaison between our taste buds and the buttery, slightly chewy sweetness of charred marshmallows.  Yes!  That is what I’m saying!  But how could this be?  Have I lost my mind?  Well, I wish I could take the credit for this insanity but in cold hard reality, I did not, sadly, invent this.  In fact, I have utterly stolen this idea from a Taiwanese cracker that is sold in all major Taiwanese airports, the scallion cracker nougat sandwich.

Yes, that’s a real thing, scallion soda cracker sandwich with a nougat filling.  Not that the case for savory-sweet hasn’t been established elsewhere, but none has ever been so curiously bizarre, absurd to a point.  Even the attempt to imagine the two flavors conjoining triggers a repulsion reflex put in place by millions of years of human evolution.  So what kind of a sick person came up with this twisted though in their evil lair, I didn’t bother to look up in my bitter jealousy, but what’s for sure is that it has turned every skeptics, Taiwanese or not, into a believer that the age for scallions to join the company of confectionary has finally arrived.

So why don’t I just do a recipe for a scallion crack nougat sandwich, you ask?  Well, if you have ever intended to make soda crackers at home you’d know that it is an unnecessary labor with negative returns.  And homemade nougat, even more so.  Try to stuff a little dollop of the latter inside the former and repeat 40 times?  Yeah I didn’t think so either.  Especially when there is an alternative for both that are not only easy and rewarding to make at home, but in my opinion, far more superior in textures, tastes, and last but not least, fun.

A foolproof scallion popover recipe that is pop-guaranteed with gorgeously crispy crust and a warm and spongy center, salty and buttery where just the right amount of scallion aroma permeates through its pores.  Then its naturally hallow cavity gently holds together the liquified state of the caramelized marshmallows, unstable stringy and promising, until you take your first faithful bite to collapse its integrity, as the crispy and spongy savoriness of the popover clashes against the burnt and buttery candy-ness of the marshmallows.  How unlikely so yet incredibly right.

And you too, from this point on, will forever wonder and marvel at the paradox that is the new s’more.

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Japanese melty iceboox cheesecake

I’m sitting here, struggling with how best to explain to you all why this Japanese version of the burnt basque cheesecake is superior than the original in every single way possible, mentally auditioning all the angles I could cut into this subject that I think is going to change the way you think about cheesecakes in general.  How it’s possibly the easiest cheesecake your kitchen-incompetence will ever behold… how it has complexities in its flavors that reminds me of a caramel flan… how its play between temperature and texture is brilliant… how the outer layer is rich yet airy while the center remains creamy and gooey, melting almost instantly around the heat of my tongue…  A R-rated story on how cheesecake and  ice cream had a baby?  I considered that, too.

But it dawned on me that these are all just supporting facts, facts that you will witness, I’ve no doubt, as soon as you make one yourself in your kitchen.  What really stands in between you and making this cake is not the certainties, no.  It is the doubt, one single doubt really, the only elephant that needs to be removed first and swiftly before everything else could just fall into place.  Because I know what you’re all thinking.  Here, I’ll say it with you.

Isn’t this just an undercooked mistake?  

No, no it is not.  It is fucking not.

Is soft-boiled egg a mistake?

There.  I don’t know how much simpler I could put it.

Now, welcome to the only cheesecake you’ll ever bake for the rest of your life.

if cheesecake and ice cream had a baby.

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Confession of an escapist cook, Hong Kong-style milk tea gelato

(I stood there) mildly confused about what just happened. But a long-overdue sense of consolation and the temporary release from anger and malcontent forbid me to investigate.

(An edited version was published on Heathyish).

In a sweltering, Hong Kong summer afternoon only slightly tempered by the torrential rain that had just begun to batter the island, I stood in my kitchen trying to figure out the golden ratio for brewing a cup of silky Hong Kong-style milk tea, a legacy of course left by the city’s British colonial past, while on TV across the room, a black blanket of soaking wet protesters numbering in over a million stretching as far as the eye can see, were marching for Hong Kong’s future.

Democracy, is what’s on their table.

I felt a sense of commotion creeping up my chest as I tried to drown it by scorching the tea leaves with my screeching kettle, watching them tumble and twirl inside the tea pot in a hopeless toil. But it did little to distract me from realizing, once again, what a familiar predicament I am in. Because the very reason that I am in Hong Kong, is precisely because I was determined to leave the place that Hong Kong is becoming in its current trajectory – and fighting not to be – China.

In 2008, after the titanic economic crash that would later come to be know as The Great Recession, I left New York with my husband who was offered a job in Hong Kong and later moved to Beijing for its more stable market. Little did I know, the following six years would become the most turbulent, if not emotionally destructive period of my life. Under China’s increasingly heavy-handed authoritarian rule, the very act of living in a place clashed violently with what I was brought up to uphold, however naïve, as a principle for democracy and civil rights. It’s a place where the personal surrender of liberty is made painfully apparent every day, where you are required to be okay with what you’re allowed to watch listen or say, where even the access to VPN (virtual private network to bypass the great firewall) is closely administered under the moody mercy of the Chinese government, which is difficult if not unreachable most times of the year. It is a shame really, as there are so many fantastic VPN options out there. Which reminds me, just the other day I was reading this Ivacy review and I found myself wondering whether or not someone living in China could perhaps use it to their advantage.

Surely, as many would argue, that if you just take it lying down that the daily functions of life can go on like any other places, but I couldn’t just take it, this constant psychological bullying, and the worst of all is knowing that by accepting this oppressive reality in exchange for economic gains, I was in some way, complicit. I wanted to break out. I had even considered going back to the USA, looking at the Visa Bulletin for updates to see if it was viable.

But leave… I did not; I stayed; I made dinners; I abided.

Then one night, as mundanely miserable as any other, as if something had snapped, neurologically almost, perhaps prompted by the salted sting of happier people living happier lives in Rome on TV, I hovered into my kitchen in an eerie silence. I laid out my subjects in a pathological orderliness, unbleached flour with 9% protein, free-range egg yolks, water and salt. I can still remember plunging my hands into the wetness of this flour mixture, in a trance almost, squeezing choking and tearing it until this unruly and sordid coagulation slowly transformed into a shiny globe of supple, silky and harmonious cohesion. After impatiently allowing it to unwind, I then force its unsuspecting body through the cold, revolving steels of a pasta machine, watching silently its malleable mass extruded and aligned under the unnegotiable pressure into a pristinely edged and sleek sheet of silk. Oh the jitters, I paused only momentarily to relish in this anticipated gratification, before I robotically drove repeated incisions into its surrendered body until its severed parts laid in uniform strands on my bare countertop.

For a while I stood there, looking down on my hands encrusted with dried fluids, mildly confused about what had just happened. But there, a long-overdue sense of consolation and the temporary release from anger and malcontent forbid me to investigate.

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Goat cheese and cherry swirl ice cream

the goat cheese popping untimed and irregular bursts of mild saltiness and cheesy aroma that cuts and balance the sweetness, which then welcomes a current of tangy and floral compote of black cherries and honey

So some of you may already knew from my Instagram that I was forced onto a whiskey distillery tour in Scotland in spite of my lifelong disagreement with this confounding substance.  Although against contrary evidences, I could swear I exercised a generous though painful effort to have fun.  But ultimately, on a jam-packed five days excursion dead set on the sole purpose of hunting and gathering overpriced barley water and thus sidelining the other, infinitely more joyous activity of plowing into flocks of free-roaming sheep at every turn, it’s safe to assume that I absolutely did not.

And this brings us to today’s topic, Mary’s Milk Bar.  If there was any highlights at all in my five days of being unpaid escort, it had to be this highly acclaimed ice cream shop in Edinburgh, sitting just at the foothill against the backdrop of the magnificent Edinburgh’s Castle.  A fine quality creameries aside, what makes Mary’s Milk Bar attractive, to me at least, are her seasonal, unique profiles of unexpected flavors, pistachios and cardamom, orange and almond to name a few.  But I’m not going to focus on the flavors that she already perfected, instead, I want to remake one that I felt could improve to my likings, and that was one called goat cheese and honey.

Even through the cold barrier of the glass window, I could feel the strong attraction of this combination in my imagination, but when I actually tasted it, it fell softly on the promise.  The flavors of the goat cheese was very subtly blended into the smooth cream-base almost to the point of undetectability, which I guess I could understand, for goat cheese being such a pungent driver of tastes that too dominant of a presence could potentially ruin what is meant to be a sweet summer dessert.  But I couldn’t help but reimagining that instead of a smooth blend, the goat cheese should come as frozen bits of surprises scattered throughout a pure and dense cream base, popping untimed and irregular bursts of mild saltiness and cheesy aroma that cuts and balances the sweetness, which would make such an incredibly rich and intense ice cream that welcomes a current of tangy and floral compote of black cherries and honey.

I put my theory to the test.  And let me just say that if I had this with me everyday, I wouldn’t mind the fact that I was on a whiskey tour.

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Granola and no-churn banana ice cream bars

 

IT TASTES LIKE THE LONG MISSING EMPATHY IN ALL HEALTHY BREAKFASTS, AT LAST, FINALY TAKING PITY IN ALL THE UNGODLY URGES WE HUMAN BEINGS HAVE TO DEAL WITH

This is a desperate attempt to counter the tyranny that is summer in Hong Kong while still upholding a minimal level of personal responsibilities such as eating fruits and vegetables, taking fibers, lowering cholesterol and such sad things in life that we all to have bend to at one point or another.  Crunchy yet slightly chewy granola crusts sensibly consisting of rolled oats, corn flakes, seeds and popped grains, sandwiching a less reasonable yet thick layer of no-churn ice cream rampant with cream and sweetened condensed milk, the only good judgment of which is made with the inclusion of two frozen bananas.

It tastes like empathy in a healthy breakfast, at last, finally understanding and taking pity in all the ungodly urges we human beings have to deal with in real life situations.  And I’d say the constancy of 34 degrees celsius with 80% humidity is as real as fuck.

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SINGAPORE HAWKER MARATHON: CRYSTAL DUMPLING (ZONGZI) MADE WITH SAGO PEARLS

 

WHAT:  Beautiful, jewel-like, crystal dumplings called zongzi made purely with sago pearls, which I didn’t actually eat in Singapore.

WHY:  Although, as far as I know, this is technically not a “Singaporean thing”, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t.  Its glossily translucent and elegantly geometric body is made entirely with tapioca sago pearls, making it enthusiastically bouncy, springy, chewy, the most texturally cheerful dumpling out there served cold with coconut dark brown sugar syrup.

HOW:  By soaking and various natural coloring agents, we are turning plain sago pearls into colorful mushy fillings that, through baptism of boiling water, transforms into these gem-like, glassy and slick dumplings that are wonderfully chewy, cooling and simply euphoric to look at.  It’s a texture thing, very much like the addictive quality of tapioca pearls inside boba teas.  The single source of fragrance and flavor that is fused into these dumplings (except the green ones that are made with pandan leaf) depends solely on these spear-shaped leaves, often times called zongye (dumpling leaf), mostly harvested from a particular type of East Asian evergreen bamboos.  It’s hard to describe it to those who haven’t personally experienced it, as it is a truly unique fragrance.  In my best ability, but probably inadequate, I would say it’s a combination of very intense corn husks and grassy tea leaves.

If you feel wary of this unfamiliar ingredient, trust me, once I was too.  But after getting over my illogical fear – one that wasn’t even inconvenient because you can buy these leaves with only a few clicks on your computer – I am now so in love of it that I want to use the leftover, incredibly aromatic cooking water as a base for soups!  And once I’ve learnt how fun it is to shape them, I just want to sit by a sunny window and make zongzi all day long.

Staying in line with the Southeast Asian flavors of this series, I’m proposing a serving syrup made with coconut milk, dark brown sugar and sea salt, mimicking the flavor of palm sugar.  But any other sweethearts like honey, maple syrup, or date syrup will do, too.

 

IT’S A TEXTURE THING!

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Simplified, tall fluffy pancake, stuffed with cheese

NO SEPARATION OF EGG WHITES AND YOLKS, NO WHIPPING THE WHITES AND FOLDING IT BACK IN, AND YEAH, NO MAYONNAISE EITHER.

 

If you use the internet, you’ve probably seen this.  This super lofty, tall and wiggling souffle pancake, said to have originated from Japan, that will surely tickle the feathers of anyone who has a soft sentimental spots for stacked fluffiness.

I, for one, am not a pancake person.  Or at least, not in its traditional form.  But over the years, I’ve been patiently waiting for a game changer that would summon my inner fluff-craze that has been dormant inside my cold, pancake-less heart, and I thought, maybe, this is it.

Well, not quite.

Upon further investigation, I realized that the recipe for this pancake requires violating one of my many holy baking commandments – Thou shalt not ask for the separation of egg white and yolks, separate whippings, and folding them back in.  I am not thy bitch. – carved into a plastic chopping board and hung onto my fridge in permanence to remind me of the gods’ wrath against disobedience.  So typically, if I see such thing, I just walk away.  But something, a small voice inside my head, an imploding honey cake from the old ages perhaps, held my foot in the ground.

Thing is, whole eggs whip up marvelously fine just as well.

If it’s air that we’re after, whipping egg whites separately isn’t always necessary.  I thought, if I could just find the right ratio between flours and whole eggs that are whipped together with sugar until almost mousse-like in consistency, then I can streamline this recipe and turn this batter into a one-bowl, fuss-free and fool-proof epiphany that even I can’t fuck up.

And guess what, I did.  A super tall, lofty, spongy one-bowl batter that doesn’t need separation of white and yolks, no folding the whites back in, and yeah, no mayonnaise either.  My heart should be content.  My inner fluff-craze should awaken and shine lights upon the golden gate that welcomes me towards pancake enlightenment.  Right?

Well, not quite.

Thing is, like all other earnest yet disappointing pancakes that had come before it, flavor-wise, this pancake was still completely boring.  Cottony fluffiness, yeah, but remind me again why I want to eat cotton again?  I sat and stared, faithful, receptive, in waiting.  A sign will come.  It must come.  All these journeys of questions and answers, flipping and flopping, reincarnations and repetitions, can’t all be for nothing.  Pancake must mean something!  It must!

I waddled my slumbering, meditating body towards the fridge for a diet coke, the thought-juice if you will, and out the corner of my eyes, there it was – A Laughing Cow (regrettably not a sponsor).  Of course!  If the gods intend a purpose for this pancake’s spacious and buoyant volume, surely, it would be for nothing else but, stuffing!  And what is better to aid its mildly sweet and airy crumbs if not this exuberantly creamy and contrastingly salty cheese?

I put my theory to work, and it worked.  An unlikely but wondrous pairing that is texturally light yet creamy, flavorfully sweet yet salty, a faintly vanilla sponge moistened with a mildly cheesy funk.  In the end, excused by its entirely oil/butter-free crumbs, a slim waterfall of melted butter and a squirt of honey is appropriately commenced.  Pancake, is that finally you?  Oh where have you been…

 
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